When 16-year-old Lily*, one of our Bismarck students, was asked to write a paper for English, she decided to write about her experiences at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch. She says, “At first it was just an assignment, but then I made it more than just a paper. I wrote it because I feel like it can change a lot of people. I want people to know they are not alone.”
Before I came here, I felt like a broken jack-in-the-box. Popping up in bad situations all the time. During my depression, sometimes I wouldn’t even pop open. Before I came here I was emotionally unstable…I had no one.
Depression wouldn’t let me move on. It was almost like an anchor. It hurt…a lot. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost.
Just thinking about this place scared me. I imagined it with yellow jumpsuits. With bars and cages. Rock hard psychiatric beds. Cold and dark rooms. No shelves. No desk. No freedom. No life. Dogs, suits, badges, hard-core discipline, separation, 24-hour lockdown, slop for food.
I thought my life was over. I thought I was never gonna get out of here. I thought the kids would be aggressive. I thought I would have to fight someone because of it. I was traumatized.
All I did was work myself up. This place is a lot better than I thought it was. I feel safe and secure here. Ya, some people have their moments. But everyone is here for something right. Go right ahead, I don’t judge. Only God can judge you.
Think about that for a second. Let it sink in. Now let it all out. I feel like this place is a people-changer. This place can save people’s lives. Because some of the way kids act would get them hurt in the real world. I promise.
It’s actually fun when it wants to be. I can make it fun if people let me. The routine sucks half the time. You do the same thing over and over again. You wake up, eat breakfast, do hygiene, go to school, do chores, do rec, then do hygiene again, and go to bed. They never let us just sit around and watch movies and eat Twinkies. Ya, I know right. It’s stupid what’s expected of us. Respect, manners, good attitudes, kindness, be a great role model, advocate for yourself, etc. What I am saying is that this place is healing and accomplishing.
The Ranch has taught me that there are a lot of people with problems just like me. That nobody’s perfect. I thought I was the only one like this. I was taught to cry and show my feelings. At home I couldn’t do that. I had to be strong.
I learned to be myself. Show people what I can do. Not care about criticism. I learned to make a goal and accomplish it. I learned to never give up no matter how hard it gets. How many lessons have I learned? I….Live!!!
*Name changed to protect confidentiality